Facilitation method: Peer Assist

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During several training sessions we have tested out the ‘Peer-Assist’-technique to let participants identify challenges and share experiences. The best way to introduce you to the specific methodology is to watch the following movie.


This animation is based on the peer assist methodology as outlined in the book Learning to Fly – Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organisations by Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell (Capstone Publishing, 2001, 2004).

by Tom Wambeke

The University of Ottawa (Canada) has identified some useful instructions in order to conduct a peer assist session. What follows is a summary:

Prior to the Peer Assist session, the Peer Assistee (the individual or team facing a challenge or problem):

  • Sends an invitation to his/her peers asking them to participate in the session.
  • Identifies a facilitator and works with him/her to ensure that the session moves in a positive direction by supporting the dialogue and recording the ideas generated on a flipchart.
  • Arranges a venue for the session and organises the space with chairs in a circle around the flipchart.

During the Peer Assist session:

  • The Peer Assistee presents his/her situation to the group. The problem or challenge should be summarized on the flipchart in point form and articulated as clearly as possible in less than 5 minutes.
  • Participants are encouraged to ask questions bringing out details of the situation.
  • Participants are then invited to make suggestions based on their experiences of how the situation might be improved.
  • The facilitator (i) keeps track of the discussion on the flipchart, and (ii) provides an environment conducive to sharing experiences.
  • Towards the end of the session, which generally lasts anywhere from 20 – 45 mins, the facilitator may invite a final suggestion or idea from each participant. A summary of the ideas is then presented.
  • The Peer Assistee informs the group how s/he will follow-up with the group.

The Bamboo Project blog suggests following possibilities to do a peer assist:

  • Having a “mini” Peer Assist as a regular part of network meetings. Potential Peer Assistees would submit their problems ahead of time and a portion of the meeting would be spent on brainstorming around one or two problems. This would have the added benefit of encouraging attendance at meetings because people both love to have their problems solved, as well as being able to offer help to others.
  • A Rotating Peer Assist would be a great idea for a half-day or full-day network conference. Organizers could identify a theme for the Peer Assist problems and/or consider having Community of Practice Peer Assists that relate to various job functions, such as having a “Case Manager Peer Assist Day” where case managers could present on their problems and get feedback from fellow participants. This seems to me a far better use of time that would be infinitely more engaging than the conference activities we usually see.
  • A technology-enhanced Peer Assist is another option. A wiki would be the perfect complement to the Peer Assist session. Rather than recording ideas on flip chart paper, they could be recorded directly into a specially created wiki. This would then be available for participants to add to later allowing them to provide links to other resources, sample documents, etc.

There is a lot of potential in using Peer-assists for learning and training activities at the Centre. Any idea of suggestion is more than welcome.

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[…] peer assist.  Tom Wambeke, from ITC ILO, Turin, Italy, wrote about the subject on the ITC ILO blog and shared his practice from several face-to-face peer assist events. He kindly accepted to be the […]